Seldom since the days of Carlos Spencer has a Blues first five-eighths stamped his authority on a game quite like Gareth Anscombe did on Sunday morning against the Bulls.
Making his run on debut for the franchise in the daunting cauldron of Loftus Versfeld, 20-year-old Anscombe played with guile and aplomb unbefitting his modest experience as the Blues overcame the Bulls 29-23.
With just two Super Rugby caps to his name, the New Zealand Under-20 star overshadowed his opposite number, Springbok sharpshooter Morne Steyn, who boasts almost a century more Super Rugby caps than Anscombe.
The Aucklander scored two tries, converted both and slotted five penalties to rack up all 29 points as the Blues seem to have finally found their answer to their perennial problems at first five-eighths.
“I guess it was just one of those days for me,” the ever modest Anscombe said.
“I got two fortuitous tries really, they just popped into my hands and I kicked well enough and just did my job for the team which was good.
“It was pretty cool (playing at Loftus Versfeld), something I’d never experienced before but we knew we had to get their crowd quiet early and my try managed to do that.”
“It’s a daunting prospect playing here but I didn’t really try thinking about it too much or get caught up in it, it was a really good team effort and it was great I could help the team perform today.”
In his post-match interview, Blues head coach Pat Lam revealed he had purposely held back Anscombe from starting until Ma’a Nonu joined the side after his stint in Japan.
Lam believed playing Anscombe in between World Cup Winners Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu would be the perfect introduction for the young first five, and that’s exactly how Anscombe felt.
“They both have a lot of knowledge of the game and a couple of times we came together and talked about what we saw and what we could do to help the boys out,” he said.
“They both know a lot about the game and are both very talented so they made my job a lot easier. Ma’a in particular talked a lot to me and Benson did a really good job outside me and took a bit of pressure off me.”
While his two tries propelled the Blues to victory, it was Anscombe’s excellent kicking that kept the visitors out in front as Morne Steyn struggled to find his radar.
Anscombe said coming to South Africa last year with the Blues Development team and playing on the number two field at Loftus Versfeld helped him find his range at the higher altitude in Pretoria.
“In those first long range ones I tried to kick them a little bit too hard but the last one was a big kick and I guess it was my best kick of the game. I wasn’t quite sure I’d get it at the start but Kevvie was quite keen to wind the clock down so I had a nudge at it and hit it pretty well and thankfully she went over.”
Anscombe is a well grounded footballer and is not getting carried away with one performance. Now people have had a chance to watch him play and analyse his strengths and weaknesses, he faces an even tougher challenge on Saturday morning against the Stormers in Cape Town (kick-off 6.10am)